North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday over two state laws it believes forces doctors to lie, including one measure passed this year requiring physicians to tell women that they may reverse a so-called medication abortion if they have second thoughts.
The complaint from the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic and the American Medical Association also targets an existing law requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The suit says the laws violate the constitutional rights of doctors by forcing them to “convey false information and non-medical statements” to patients. It asks a judge to block enforcement.
“The First Amendment prohibits the government from hijacking the doctor-patient relationship to advance a political agenda,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
A spokeswoman for North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Stenehjem was not immediately available for comment. He said earlier when asked about the possibility of a lawsuit that he will be required to defend the current laws. Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick, also named as a defendant, had not seen the lawsuit and said he could not comment.
North Dakota is among eight states, including five in the last year, to pass or amend laws requiring doctors to tell women undergoing medication abortions they can still have a live birth after the procedure. The North Dakota law, scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1, also requires doctors to tell the patient that “time is of the essence” if she changes her mind.
Republican state Rep. Daniel Johnston said he sponsored the bill so that “women having second thoughts” know they have options. He said the bill does not restrict abortions and couldn’t see “how anyone could be against it.”
AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris told The Associated Press that North Dakota’s law requires doctors to “mislead and misinform” their patients and the consequences could undermine relationships between all physicians and patients. The AMA, which is the country’s largest physician organization, sued the Trump administration in March over funding for family planning organizations offering abortion services.
“The AMA will step in when there is any interference with our ability to talk to our patients about legal, evidence-based medical procedures,” Harris said by phone from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she was attending an event by the British Medical Association. She said AMA lawyers are monitoring all laws they believe infringe on doctor-patient relationships and decided North Dakota’s was the next case to be “actively involved in.”
Other states that have passed similar laws that require patients to be informed about medication abortion reversal are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah. The suit says there is no “credible, scientific evidence” that a medication abortion can be reversed and the drug that would be used in the procedure has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The other law requiring doctors to define a fetus is part of the state’s longstanding abortion control act. The suit says the mandate is a “controversial and ideological opinion about when life begins” and is meant to further the state’s attempt to discourage abortion.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said the measures do not allow doctors to give honest and informed advice.
“North Dakota’s laws are forcing us to say things that violate our medical ethics and will soon force us to say things that are simply false and not backed up by science,” Kromenaker said.
Lawmakers passed another abortion bill this year that bans the method of so-called dilation and evacuation. It would make it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb. Opponents have called it “human dismemberment abortion.”
This story has been corrected to show that the American Medical Association is monitoring all laws they believe infringe on doctor-patient relationships, not just abortion laws.